Hearing lions roar on a star-studded night in the Kalahari; fine dining on a wine farm in the Western Cape; watching loggerhead turtles on the beaches of KwaZulu-Natal; hiking among the jagged peaks of the Drakensberg – South Africa has it all and much more.
In this South Africa guide we provide you with the best hikes and trips and get you inspired for your travels with our book, film and music recommendations.
The history of South Africa is very long. In fact, skeletons of some of the earliest humans were uncovered in South Africa. At the Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg, you can visit caves where these discoveries have been made, and learn more about our ancestors, who lived here over 3 million years ago.
In the medieval period, great fortified settlements grew up, constructed by affluent tribes who increased their wealth and prestige through commerce with Arabic traders. Great Zimbabwe is the most famous example, but another hilltop ruin, Mapungubwe (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), can be visited in the very north of South Africa.
In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck started the colonial period by landing at what is now Cape Town, building a fortress, planting vegetables, and overseeing the increase in settler numbers which led to the beginnings of a town. French Huguenots, fleeing religious persecution in Europe, arrived in 1689 to improve the wine, and found the town of Franschhoek.
A shameful shadow fell across the land when apartheid began in 1948. A racist authoritarian government ensured white supremacy, with the minority white population dominating economically and politically. Non-white people were often forced from their homes, District Six in Cape Town being a famous example of a vibrant mixed community being destroyed by unjust laws. Black people were harassed and institutionally supressed in their own land.
Modern South Africa was shaped by apartheid, and its legacy can still clearly be seen today. Sprawling black townships neighbour affluent mainly white suburbs. Transformation and decolonisation has been a slow process. Sadly, South Africa today is a country where, above all, it is still the colour of your skin that will determine your life chances.
South Africa boasts wildlife, inside and outside of its many wildlife reserves. Not to miss are the the Big Five (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard and buffalo) in famous national parks like Kruger. Also lesser known nature reserves showcase a diversity of birds, antelope and other famous African animals. On any drive you take, birds of prey are a common sight, and while hiking, you often stumble upon smaller antelope. The sea life is equally spectacular with whales, sharks, turtles and of course African penguins. We have visited all the famous and less famous nature and wildlife reserves in South Africa and tell you all about it in our guide.
South Africa is packed with activities for adventure lovers. We have stayed with our feet on the ground and have explored many of the mountains on spectacular hikes. Camping in the wilderness under the dark African skies is also something you must try for yourself. Going on a self-drive safari is another not-to-miss experience. Soon we are publishing a book called Chasing Ostriches on our two month road trip adventure through South Africa.
With 11 official languages, South Africa’s culture is very diverse. Known as the Rainbow Nation, relaxing jazz mixes with thumping kwaito, home-grown pop beats and Afrikaans country tunes. Ranging from the staple food of mealie pap (or maize meal), to the fine-dining delights of world-class restaurants, South Africa has it all. Cape Malay cuisine, centred in Cape Town, includes Malaysian and eastern flavours such as sweet and spicy bobotie (mince meat with an egg topping) and malva pudding (similar to syrup sponge, but with apricot jam). Durban, with its rich Indian heritage, is a great place for a curry. To have a braai (barbecue), which involves spending the afternoon cooking meat and drinking beer, is a typical South African experience that shouldn’t be missed.